UK DVD release date: 8th November 2010
Running time: 95 mins
Director: Scott Mann
Starring: Robert Carlisle, Kelly Hu, Ving Rhames, Ian Somerhalder
Format: DVD/Blu Ray
Every seven years in a random unsuspecting city somewhere in the world thirty of the world’s top assassins come together for the ultimate game of sudden death. Twenty nine corpses later and one walks away with $10 Million.
It should all be straight forward until French assassin and free runner Anton Bogart (Sebastian Foucan) removes his tracker [which is surgically implanted into all contestants] and drops it into a cup of coffee which is quickly consumed by half priest / half alcoholic Father MacAvoy (Robert Carlisle) in a Middlesborough café. Unwittingly MacAvoy has entered into a competition he is ill-equipped he deal with. Reigning champ Joshua Harling played by Ving Rhames (Out of Sight, Con Air) is back not only to win the tournament again but to avenge the murder of his wife. The only problem is he doesn’t know which one of his fellow contestants pulled the trigger.
The closest comparison to The Tournament would be Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale as they are both about thinning the herd through the use of skill, instinct and large semi automatic to automatic firearms. The difference between the two is that where the Battle Royale programme was a way of lowering the population of an overburdened nation there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of logic behind this tournament. After all, if these are the thirty best assassins in the world then eliminating all but one is ultimately weakening their profession. If you can put this major problem to one side then you will have side stepped one of the biggest problems with The Tournament but it’s a big one and is likely to reoccur every time you see the difficulties that MacAvoy is dealing with and the brutality of the world he’s been introduced to. Surely the world’s best assassins could make $10 Million from a couple of jobs therefore making the pot for this life of death tournament a little skimpy.
Tellingly, the script needs a little bit of work as aside from this hole in narrative logic there’s some issues with some seriously under developed characters. Most of them the film gets away with as their either not long for this world or minor side characters but some of them are serious issues. Kelly Hu (X-Men 2, The Scorpion King) is excellent as Lai Lai Zhen, the triad’s number one contract killer and sells the physicality of the role perfectly. Not only does she keep up with her male counterparts but her conviction cleans the floor with them. The problem is one of characterization, there’s little real reason given for her participation in the tournament and you always only really care about her surviving because she has taken Father MacAvoy under her wing.
Carlisle is excellent in his role as the troubled priest; he has the expressive face to carry a deeply tortured performance to the screen and delivers so much more than what was on the page. It’s a genuine coup for the film to have such a brilliant character performer in such a crucial role. At no point does he disappoint. Rhames could, on the other hand, take notes from the Trainspotting star. He has been an excellent supporting actor over the years with Dark Blue and the Mission: Impossible franchise but comes across as one tone and somewhat lazy in The Tournament and as [arguably] the central character is meant to be the one who sets the tone and drives the action forward but lacks any intensity or interest leaving his narrative wandering around aimlessly. At the other end of the spectrum is Ian Somerhalder (Lost, The Vampire Diaries) as Miles Slade the psychopathic hitman of the piece. Where Ving has barely got out of bed to deliver most of his performance Somerhalder acts with a capital A. What was, probably, envisioned as a menacing and unstable killer in the mold of a Steve Buscemi or Robert Knepper is camped up to the point where panto dames are shuttering. Rather than playing his character insane, Somerhalder plays mad…two parts camp to one part mad and in doing so is more of an irritation than a menace.
The stand out [physical] performance is Sebastian Foucan (as Anton Bogart) from Casino Royale fame. Ever since District 13 leaped into the public eye the action genre has been flirting with the urban art parkour and even though it always looks a little out of place it, mainly thinking Live Free or Die Hard (Die Hard 4.0), it seems to work really well in The Tournament. The fire fight and chase sequence between Father MacAvoy, Lai Lai & Sebastian in the police car is both original and exciting as the ‘Running Man’ puts his body through the ringer for some truly brilliant moments of action. Likewise his double decker gun fight with Lai Lai is a work of art and one that could only be crafted by such a physical and fearless performer. The toilet confessional between the Father and Lai Lai represents a nice change of pace and plays nicely on a couple of different levels and offers some much needed exposition in a narrative that’s been largely sustained on adrenaline.
There are some truly exciting things in and about The Tournament, Scott Mann’s handling behind the camera shows us that he is potentially a serious player in the cinematic tournament as he’s able to balance an ensemble cast narrative against the action genre’s need for one central protagonist. Unfortunately there are some serious issues with the film including character development, narrative holes and one of those moments you unfortunately see coming a mile off that’s intended to be a big surprise. Fans of Battle Royale or The Condemned starring Stone Cold Steve Austin should give it a watch as the main issues will probably be similar in all films but if you’re looking for something a little more than guns and ammo you should probably try another competition.